OT/Opinion: Mini mill or handwheel for CNC

Not laser or Lightburn related but other folks here may be knowledgeable (and I’m not getting anything useful from some maching forums… :))

“Mini Mill vs Drill Press” for any form of milling/machine beyond drilling holes has been beat to death, but I have a slightly different twist on it.

I currently have a 3D printer, 100W 700x500mm CO2 laser, and an 800W 6040 CNC. I’ve been looking at getting a drill press to complete the collection to bridge the gap between putting various pieces together.

As part of my search, I’ve also been considering “I might as well get an LMS 3990 Mini Mill if I’m going to get a drill press”. The drill press and mill being preferred over setting up a job on the CNC for something quick-n-dirty.

However, I don’t see me doing much metal work. I’ve been using CNC for plastic and wood (which has largely been made much faster and easier with the laser), but there are definitely times when some work can’t be done by the laser.

My latest consideration is just getting a handwheel for the CNC and using it rather than actually doing the CAM prep for simple stuff.

With this description, any thoughts to help me decide between a handwheel and the LMS? ~$150 vs $1,500 isn’t a primary criteria (although the low end would make the wife happier:)). It’s more “taking up more room in the already crowded garage for something that may not really provide much benefit.”

I think that the handwheel will be more effective for me, but I don’t know what I don’t know…Thoughts? Considerations that I haven’t listed, above?

One issue with adding a hand wheel (manual control) to your CNC is accuracy and determining position.
The screws on the CNC are likely not in nice easy divisions of an inch or mm that any hand wheel you add will have. So, counting revolutions will require math and get old very quickly.

Secondly positioning will be entirely manual, the current position as a CNC is known using the endstops. A manual mill with a proper DRO and glass scales inherently knows it’s exact position at all times even after a power failure. I don’t see a lot of value adding hand wheels to a CNC router. Just use Mach3/4 in conversational mode using the wizards and it will help a lot I think.

As to the mill/drill question, it really sounds like you just need a drill press. I have a PM25-MV manual mill with DRO and a WEN 13" Drill press, the combo is amazing. Using a manual mill or even a CNC mill for drilling is problematic. The working area you loose adding a proper chuck to the manual mill is huge. A drill press is much faster for changing tools/drills. One thing I do with the manual mill is spot drill the hole locations, then finish on the drill press.

Thanks, @codexmas. Something to keep in mind (that I didn’t make clear) was that the handwheel integrates with the DRO for the CNC software. So, I’ll have the positioning/zeroing available. The jog controls using the mouse/keyboard on a PC isn’t very convenient.

This is heading toward “handwheel + drill press” (~$300-400) vs Mini Mill (~$1,000-1,600). Ideally, I’d have a full workshop, but the garage space is already tight, so I need to optimize for space and use.

Ah cool, good to know. Are you talking about a pendant controller?

Another thing I forgot as a possible issue is spindle speed, as you likely know drilling operations are usually low speed.

I too thought of something similar, get the PM25-MV mill and also use it as a drill press to save space and money. It took only a few hours of using the machine to realize how silly of an idea that was :wink:

Yeah. Pendant controller. I’ve seen them called one of Pendant/Handwheel/MPG. I could see where handwheel could be confusing, though.

Hm. Yeah. I think high speed on the spindle is around 20K. Slow is probably still in the 1 or 2K range. Not very slow for milling.

“This isn’t getting me any closer to a decision, you know!” :wink:

Careful the questions you ask, for the answers may raise more :joy:

High speed spindles typically have very low torque at low RPM’s so there is that too.

An option to get around that is to use a peck-drilling operation on your CNC, works quite well and is easy to setup.

The question around a Pendant vs the LMS mini mill is are you ready for the additional investment in milling vise and tooling just for that machine? Likely the milling machine doesn’t share the same tooling setup as your CNC, so there is a considerable amount of things you will have to buy to use the mill effectively.

It’s better find out the “oh crap!” considerations before spending money. :slight_smile:

I’m currently leaning toward drill-press as the primary solution with a pendant for the CNC for quick-n-dirty milling. I don’t think I’ll really need the full capabilities of the LMS (but, “ooh. more toys!” :)).

If I ended up going to the LMS, I think the included chuck plus a 3mm and 6mm collet would allow me to start with the tooling I already have for the CNC. I’d need a vice regardless of drill press or LMS (or even CNC), so I could get a small vice that could be used for all three.

I’m actually considering getting rid of the CNC just because of the limited usage I have and the amount of room it takes up. Of course, as soon as I do, I’ll find a use that only it can handle. :slight_smile:

I have a Tormach CNC mill and use it with a pendant (as @rojhan mentioned) for moving around the work envelope quickly and for setting the work offset. I use the keyboard (MDI = Manual Data Input) to locate the spindle quickly and precisely to a location for drilling etc. I’m also finding that a CNC controller that has conversational wizards to quickly program short little jobs is a real efficiency enhancer. Tormach’s PathPilot controller is based on LinuxCNC so you might want to check that out.

On edit - forgot to add that I also wondered about a manual handwheel when I got started and quickly found that it was not needed at all.

“Terminology matters”. Definitely didn’t mean “handwheel” as in one you find on a mill. Pendant is what I meant. I use UCCNC and it has an MDI. It also has an editor for quick-n-dirty.

I’m pretty solidly on drill-press + pendant + existing CNC rather than getting a mill, now - “for my use case. your mileage may vary” :).

I ended picking up a 10" bench drill press at the local Harbor Freight. It doesn’t look necessarily any worse than the Home Depot/Lowes brands and at least has a little more metal and a 5/8" chuck as well as low speed down to 300RPM which will help with metal. No visible wobble/slop/runout, although I haven’t put a dial indicator on it.

I also ordered the Vista P1A-S USB pendant for the CNC.

$330 all-in and “for what I want to do” should be more than sufficient.

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